I came across an interview this week. The chef, in discussing her habits and philosophy, said that “everything is cumulative”.
She was talking about health. No day is good or bad in its own right. Nothing exists in isolation. Every run we take, or good decision we make, adds up.
I like this concept. I’m not just who I am right now. I’m an accumulation of years, days, memories.
I particularly like the sentiment for its implication that nothing is lost. Old parts of ourselves are still just that: parts of ourselves. Whether they resurface or not, they will forever exist.
I’m the sum of so many places and moments and versions of myself. I’m a summer hour spent picking cherry tomatoes in our garden at home, age ten, my bare toes sinking into the cool dirt.
I’m a semester of showing up late to, and nearly failing out of, a torturous geology seminar in college, too busy falling in love over milky lattes and jam-laden croissants at a corner table at Balthazar to be bothered to read the chapter on igneous rock formations in the Paleozoic era.
I’m a week in a car driving through South Africa on red dirt roads teeming with sheep. Drinking homemade beer in a tiny hut just past the border into Lesotho. Swimming on a hot night in the pouring rain off a deserted beach on the Wild Coast. Sleeping in a hammock in a colorful, treehouse-like hostel.
I'm two months in a tent on a lake in Vermont, blistered hands from windy canoe trips and sticky fingers from campfire s'mores.
More moments course through my veins: Tramping through the snow every Christmas morning on our annual pre-present walk. Walking off the high school soccer field on a crisp autumn afternoon, sweaty and spent, wearing my bright red varsity uniform, a backpack slung over my shoulder.
My dad singing old musicals to me at night before bed from a worn Rogers & Hammerstein songbook. Sharing a room with my sister, whispering to her at night until I grow drowsy and my eyelids droop.
Discovering a cache of tadpole eggs at the edge of the second pond, the squishy feeling of running my fingers through the translucent strands.
Stepping out of my bed in a cabin in Maine, age seventeen, the wooden floor like ice on my bare toes.
I’m the food I was nourished on – pasta with broccoli and cream, white bread hot from the oven, freshly churned butter, a yellow layer cake with seven-minute frosting for every birthday.
And more: peas from the garden, warm still from the sun. Heavy raw cream poured over Rice Krispies. My dad’s Cream of Wheat with brown sugar. My mom’s homemade pizza and sesame seed crackers and orange sweet rolls.
And I’m what I cook and eat now, as a food writer and an adult in a city with an endless feast of new-to-discover food spread out before me: hefty sabich sandwiches doused in creamy tahini sauce, tangy rice flour crepe dosas spilling over with melted cheese, golden-crusted baguettes from the bakery in Vermont where I work, popcorn tossed with turmeric and coconut oil and nutritional yeast from a little natural foods shop in the West Village.
And the repertoire of simple, satisfying meals I’ve learned is part of me now, too: the fancy stovetop chocolate puddings made with good dark cocoa and the tossed-together pastas and the late night grilled cheeses.
Here’s my favorite of one of that repertoire: A killer grilled cheese with roasted tomatoes, sliced avocado, sharp cheddar cheese, fresh mozzarella, and pizza seasoning. If you have the foresight to make a big batch of roasted tomatoes on the weekend, your future self will be all the more happy for it.
**Okay. I am giving you a recipe for a sandwich. I realize you are probably a totally competent person who is fully capable of making a sandwich without my assistance. But, everyone makes grilled cheeses a little differently, and these flavors are pretty fantastic together, so here's my method! Obviously, you do not need to measure the cheese. Eyeball it. I included amounts in case anyone DOES want to know, but when in doubt, err on the side of LOTS OF CHEESE.**
Roasted Tomato + Avocado Grilled Cheese
Use good, fresh mozzarella here, not the bagged and shredded kind. If you can’t find pizza seasoning (as we know, I’m obsessed), sub a blend of dried oregano, dried basil, dried rosemary, dried onion flakes, dried thyme, sea salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic powder together.**
2 slices sourdough or sturdy country bread, thickly sliced
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted tomatoes (I just roast mine with a little olive oil, s + p)
2 ounces sharp cheddar, sliced very thinly or grated
2 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced very thinly
1 tablespoon pizza seasoning
Liberally spread the exterior of both slices of bread with mayonnaise. Lightly butter the inside of each slice.
Heat a skillet on medium heat. Place one slice of bread, mayo-side down, in the pan. Top with an even layer of cheddar, then a layer of mozzarella, then a layer of roasted tomatoes, and then sprinkle with pizza seasoning. Add the second slice of bread, mayo-side up, and press down gently.
Cover the pan with a lid (it doesn't have to fit exactly on the pan) and cook until the cheese just starts to melt and the bottom slice of bread starts to turn golden. I like to press gently down on the sandwich with my fingertips now and again to help things along.
Flip the sandwich over, and remove the top slice of bread and add the sliced avocado. Put the top slice back on and keep cooking until the bottom of the sandwich browns and the cheese is fully melted.